I love lists. They bring order to chaos. They set priorities. I use them constantly; if you sneak a peek into my omnipresent notebook at work, you’ll just see pages and pages of “To Do” lists. It’s just how my mind works and helps me get through the day. I don’t like to go shopping without lists if I can help it. The few times I do, I inevitably forget something or wind up with a lot of stuff I don’t need. I’ve made concessions to technology – I have apps on both my cell phone and tablet that make lists – but I am guessing I will always be a list maker.
One of the other benefits of lists is that it gives pop culture aficionados something to argue about. People in the world of entertainment love to make “Best Of” lists and for good reason – they generate a lot of discussion. People are always upset when their favorites are omitted or are aghast when something they loathe makes the list. They try to make the case for why something should be ranked higher. Pop culture folk are an excitable bunch.
So it should come as no surprise that when I saw that Paste magazine had made a list of the 25 best Seinfeld episodes that I would have to take a gander. I consider myself to be a Seinfeld savant and have very definite ideas as to what episodes of the series worked particularly well or were memorable and those that weren’t as great (but still better than 99% of what is on television). It’s actually pretty hard to select the best since they were all so good; it really boils down to personal preference and what ideas, quotes or images particularly tickled you. I really don’t think there is a bad episode in the bunch; the pilot is probably the weakest, but that is the case with most comedies so I won’t hold that against them.
After pursuing the list, Paste does a decent job of selecting some of the more outstanding episodes. I don’t necessarily agree with their pick for number one – while “Yada, Yada” certainly has become part of the popular lexicon partially because of this episode, I don’t think that is enough to catapult it to the top of the heap. The rest of that episode isn’t all that memorable and I think that there should be more to the “best” episode than a catch phrase. “The Dealership” is among my least favorite, so I was surprised that cracked their top 25.
I was also surprised at how many of the episodes that made their list were from the later seasons of the show. Most shows peak somewhere in the middle of their run and then slowly lose some of their charm and eventually go out with a whimper. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Seinfeld as more than a quarter of the episodes on the list come from the last two seasons of the show’s 9 season run.
After reading Paste’s list, I thought about what characteristics I would use in coming up with my own list of best Seinfeld episodes. My first instinct was to use the same criteria the Supreme Court used in obscenity cases: I know it when I see it. But then my social science training kicked it and I realized that I needed something more concrete as a basis of my ranking. It had to be an episode where the A,B and C stories all worked; it had to be funny (obviously); the more Elaine in it the better (my favorite character); it had to be memorable – I’ve seen every episode dozens of times of more, so it had to stick out; and it should be quotable. Bonus points if it features some of the more fun recurring characters – The Constanzas, Puddy, Newman and Mickey are usually good sources of comedy gold.
With those guidelines in mind, here is my list of the 5 best Seinfeld episodes (clips that you can embed were hard to come by, so apologies for that):
5. The Seven (Season 7) – The episode had to make the list simply because it colored my entire strategy for naming my own (future) children. There are a lot of fun subplots in this one; on their own they might not amount to much, but combined they make a very funny and memorable episode. Jerry is obsessed (as only Jerry would be) with why his new girlfriend seems to wear the same outfit all the time, Elaine and Kramer fight over possession of a bicycle and George is in a tizzy when he finds out that he might lose his chosen baby name (Seven) to one of Susan’s relatives. Susan is an underrated character in the Seinfeld universe and she is particularly good in this episode. It is also bolstered by an appearance of Newman and a fabulous visual of Kramer riding a girl’s bicycle around Jerry’s apartment.
Jerry’s stand up bit at the top of the show is one of my favorites:
“I love it when people are complimented on something they’re wearing and they accept the compliment as if it was about them. “Nice tie.” “Well, thank you. Thank you very much.” The compliment is for the tie, it’s not for you, but we take it. That’s kind of the job of clothes; to get compliments for us, because it’s very hard to get compliments based on your human qualities. Right? Let’s face it, no matter how nice a person you are, nobody’s gonna come Say “Hey, nice person.” It’s much easier to be a bastard and just try and match the colors up.”
I think about this every time someone compliments my clothes.
4. The Hamptons (Season 5) – This is one of the few Seinfeld episodes that take the gang out of New York City for a bit. It’s fun to see them in a new location. This episode is insanely quotable and not only gave the world the term “shrinkage” but also “troll baby.” This is one of the best scenes that these three have ever shared
George really steals the show in this episode; it is one of the few times that Kramer and his shenanigans take a real back seat to the rest of the action. And this episode makes me hungry every time I watch it with all the discussion about lobster.
3. The Glasses (Season 5) – Chaos ensues after George loses his glasses at the gym. Kramer’s attempts to get George a discount runs into complications, Elaine is bitten by a dog and Jerry worries that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his cousin Jeffrey based on questionable intel from a squinting George. I like this episode partially because it isn’t as well-known as some of the others on this list; if you didn’t watch the show regularly, you may not have even seen it. I know this because when I quote the dialogue from “The Glasses” I tend to get a lot of blank stares. I used to think of this clip every time it was time to install my air conditioner in my old apartment:
Just a lot of funny moments that pay off at the end. Bonus points for an appearance by Uncle Leo!
2. The Contest (Season 4) – It was a very close call between this episode and the episode that I crowned number 1. This is one of the more famous episodes of Seinfeld; if people haven’t seen it, they are at least aware of it and its focus on a contest to see who among the main characters can last the longest without masturbating, though the word is never actually used. The hilarious metaphors that they use in place of it are pretty funny (“master of my domain,” “lord of the manor,” “queen of the castle”) in and of themselves. Add in the various temptations that they all face (my favorite was Elaine’s brush with JFK, Jr.) and this episode is an instant classic. There are several call backs to this episode in subsequent seasons including in the (much maligned) series finale when George admits that he cheated.
1. The Marine Biologist (Season 5) – I may have some bias on this because I feel like once upon a time I read that this was Jerry’s favorite episode. But I really love this episode and it is one that I direct people to who claim that they don’t like Seinfeld (believe it or not, those people exist). I really enjoy the way that all the story lines come together so perfectly (and unexpectedly) and how the story that Jerry tells in the beginning of the episode about his t-shirt “Golden Boy” comes back around at the end. It also features this spectacular soliloquy by George about his rescue of the whale. “The sea was angry that day, my friends.” This is George at his finest – trapped in a situation of his own doing because of his inability to just tell the truth. Elaine has a great B story about working with a difficult Russian writer and Jerry convinces her that Tolstoy’s original name for War and Peace was War What is it Good For? Just so fantastic on so many levels. Just writing about it makes me want to go home and watch it.
For the most part, this top 5 hasn’t changed since Seinfeld was first on the air. Taken as a whole, I think these are among the most solid episodes of the series. I’m surprised that so many of them come from season 5; whatever they were doing that year clearly was working for me.
Your turn – what are your favorite episodes?